Firefox? Eh? That Clint Eastwood film about the fast jet fighter?
It’s a new internet browser. The first full version, Firefox 1.0, was launched earlier this month.

OK. Like Internet Explorer then?
In the sense it’s a browser, yes, but the differences are larger than the similarities.

You’d best tell me about them. Microsoft doesn’t make it, then?
Most definitely not. It was created by the Mozilla Foundation, an open-source group. Remember Netscape?

Might do.
Netscape created and funded the Mozilla Foundation but later spun it off as an independent entity in its own right. The Mozilla Foundation doesn’t have the same huge coffers as rival Microsoft, either. It relies on donations from developers and other fans to continue its work – it doesn’t charge for its downloads either.

Hmmm. How generous are the techies? Isn’t the collecting tin looking a bit empty?
Au contraire. The Firefox community is happy to dig deep in order to spread the word about the browser. Recently, the Mozilla Foundation called on open source’s fans to help pay for a full-page ad in The New York Times to extol the virtues of the browser. After ten days, the Firefox folk had collected the $100,000 necessary to run the ad – as well as another $150,000 besides – and closed the campaign.

It seems like the Mozilla Foundation are keen to get developers involved…
In more ways than one. The Mozilla Foundation is taking advantage of the ‘many eyes’ idea and is asking developers to see if they can spot security flaws in the Firefox code. While Firefox has experienced security holes, the strategy seems to be working for the open-source browser, with recent holes quickly sewn up. As well as making the browser safer for users, any eagle-eyed code crunchers will be rewarded with a $500 bounty for spotting a vulnerability.

Right – but is anyone actually using it?
Interesting question.

Microsoft is still very much the Goliath here. About 90 per cent of the browser market is still controlled by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

So why is everyone making all the fuss?
Because it used to have an even bigger share. When the statistics for browser market share started making the news because IE’s share was slipping, back in July, Redmond’s share fell from 95.48 per cent of all web surfers in the US to 94.16 per cent. Now that number has fallen to below 90 per cent, according to another web analytics company. Currently, over six million people have downloaded the latest version of browser.

It’s also won praise from users for its attractive interface, nifty features and dainty size – it’s under 5MB compared to IE’s 80MB. It’s also gleaning more and more add-ons, as developers set to work creating new extensions and themes for the application.

What’s next then?
Well, a couple of big names have been seen sniffing around the browser. Nokia, for one, has thrown a few quid Mozilla’s way to help with a Firefox for mobiles and, if rumours are to be believed, Google might be chumming up with the Foundation with a view to create a Google-branded browser.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, you can download Firefox from the Mozilla website.